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From slaves in Egypt to God's chosen people

This is part of a series of articles, describing each of the 66 books of the Bible and how it relates to the one overall story of God’s relationship with man. The story is examined in terms of the eight recurring themes below. The series cover page can be reached here.

Power &
Holiness &
Love &
Pursuit of
Care &
Rebellion & Sin;
God’s Judgment
Messiah, JESUS

The book of Exodus is traditionally considered to have been written by Moses, and describes his life and actions…and God’s actions through him.

The literary style of the book is literal, historical narrative. The tone is matter-of-fact, even when describing obvious miracles. People and places are named in real-world context, with nothing “once upon a time” or “in a galaxy far, far away”.

This book describes God choosing a people group, revealing Himself to them in power and holiness, contracting with them to be His chosen people, and leading them to the homeland promised to their ancestors. It includes all eight of the major themes presented in this article series.

As the book begins, Joseph’s descendants are still in Egypt. However, they have gone from being honored guests to being slaves. The Pharoah whom Joseph had helped is gone; the family has grown tremendously (to as many as several hundred thousand); and the new Pharoah feels threatened by such a large group of non-Egyptians in their midst. Besides enslaving them, the Pharoah has also ordered the killing of all newborn Hebrew boys. He is thwarted in this effort by a couple of courageous midwives.

God’s plan for these descendants of Abraham went a step farther when one new mother had a daring plan to save her baby boy. She put him into a basket floating among the reeds of the Nile river, where God brought him to the attention of the Pharoah’s daughter. Moses, the son of the Hebrew slave, was raised as a prince in the palace…good training for a future deliverer for his people!

Not so fast, though. When he grew up, Moses made the mistake (?) of killing an Egyptian who was abusing a Hebrew. Yes, there were consequences: Moses had to run for his life. But there was also redemption: During the next years, Moses matured, married, had children, and was in position when God was ready to call him to duty (using a burning bush 🙂 ) as a deliverer for His people. Exodus 3:14 of this scene is one of the strongest claims that God makes to His holiness and sovereignty: “I AM WHO I AM”. Nothing can add or detract; no other identity is needed; He is everything.

At first, things did not seem to go well. It took several plagues to get Pharoah to be almost willing to let the people leave Egypt on their way back to Canaan, the land that God had promised to their ancestor Abraham. The climax of the scene is the Passover, the night God passed judgment by taking the life of every firstborn child, human or animal, that was not covered by the blood of the sacrificial lamb spread on the doorposts. This preview of the sacrificial Messiah — who would be born almost 1500 years later — demonstrates so many of our story themes: God’s plan, His sovereignty, His love, care, and protection for His people, the shedding of blood to provide atonement, and the redemption of His people out of slavery.

Barely had the people left Egypt before they needed God’s rescue again at the Red Sea. Even after that, the people kept complaining, and God kept providing. What a demonstration of both sin and grace! After an interlude with a battle won by God’s help, and some good organizational advice for Moses from his father-in-law, we come to the next big scene.

God met with His people at Mt. Sinai, demonstrating again His power and holiness, but initiating a lasting covenant with them to be His set-apart nation. That covenant had conditions that the people promised to obey, starting with the Ten Commandments. There were other commandments, most of which seem like pretty common sense to us now that they have influenced all modern legal systems. There were some specific to these people, like observing the Sabbath and other festivals. Most especially, they were forbidden to have anything to do with the pagan kingdoms they would encounter, or with the gods of those kingdoms. The people agreed to all the conditions, and formally bound themselves to this contract with God.

After the contract meeting, Moses went away with God for 40 days. During that time, God gave Moses the very-detailed plans for the tabernacle and the proper procedures for worshipping Him. The emphasis was on the holiness of God and the need to be clean both physically and spiritually before entering His presence. Since spiritual cleanliness — a complete lack of sin — was impossible, provision was made for the blood of sacrificial animals to provide the atonement needed to cover for sin (another preview of the ultimate sacrifice to come in the future). The Sabbath was also emphasized again, setting apart one day a week as the people themselves were to be set apart from other nations.

While Moses was gone, the people promptly ignored everything they had learned about God, and promised to Him. The golden calf incident was a prime example of sin & judgment. But it was again followed by reconciliation when God met with Moses, reissued His covenant commandments to the people, and came to them to accept their worship again. The people built the tabernacle as God had directed, then He took up residence there in the midst of His people.

Through all of this, God took the initiative. He came to Moses; He came to the people at Mt. Sinai; and He took up residence in the tabernacle, despite their sin and rebellion. The covenant relationship that defined their people would not have happened if He had not loved enough to pursue it.